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June 16, 2014

A Legendary Reunion on Broadway

By John Hartanowicz | Theater

black stars of the great white way
Photo courtesy of Lisa Pacino

In October 2011, Chapman Roberts—the vocal arranger of and performer in hit shows such as Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar—gathered together more than 300 African American stage performers and behind-the-scenes professionals for a historic picture. “Nowhere in history did there exist a photo of the black performers of Broadway as a group,” Roberts says, adding that once he had such an accomplished crew assembled he couldn’t let the talent go untapped. “We decided to turn the photo into a live concert and celebrate ourselves and our predecessors.” Two years later, the musical revue Black Stars of the Great White Way debuted as a one-night-only event at New York’s Queensborough Performing Arts Center.

Those who may have missed that special show are in luck. On June 23, Roberts brings his production a step closer to the actual Great White Way (Broadway, that is), with a second one-night performance—The Black Stars of the Great White Way Broadway Reunion: Live The Dream—at Carnegie Hall. More than just a collection of some of the most phenomenal talent to ever grace the stage, the nearly three-hour show is a tribute to pioneering African American performers (Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong), who helped pave the way for future entertainers.

Returning cast members include Ben Vereen, Hinton Battle and Cleavant Derricks—but the star lineup doesn’t stop there. With help from Live the Dream executive producer Norm Lewis, Roberts has wrangled even more wattage for his second go-round, including Tony Award winners Ben Harney and Obba Babatundé. Other legends like Keith David, André De Shields, Larry Marshall, Savion Glover and Maurice Hines round out the ensemble.

The performance is as much a passing of the torch as a historical recount for a new generation. “Legacy is essential to the survival of any culture,” Roberts says. Plus, the show is absolutely riveting and not to be missed. But if you need further convincing: Who knows when—if ever—such a legendary cast can be assembled again? June 23, 8 p.m.; 212-247-7800; carnegiehall.org.

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